Posted on August 23, 2012 by Beth Yost
Traveling by foot somewhere remote can be liberating: no computer, no cell phone, no hair thingy-mabobs, no makeup, and no real world obligations. Unless, of course, you pack all that crap with you.
I’ve had those moments, trudging uphill with my over-stuffed pack; I’m hot, tired, sore, and hungry, yearning for a pint of my beloved green tea ice cream and my comfy navy blue sweatpants, along with the latest episode of Mad Men, no, wait, Breaking Bad, nah, DEXTER! Yes! Dexter!!
But these get-me-the-hell-out-of-here emotions can be diverted — or, at least, minimized — if you follow one simple rule: pack and plan smart. Most of the following lessons I learned the hard way, and I’m still learning many others. Here are a few tips to make your pack — and back country camping trip — a little more comfortable.*
1. Your pack should weigh no more than 25% of your body weight. If you’ve got knee issues, foot problems, back issues, or bitchy syndrome when you get tired (guilty), it can’t hurt to try to keep it even less than 25%. So, let’s say you weigh 100 pounds (yeah, I know, there are very few heroin-chic runway models who happen to like back country camping; I’m just using easy numbers). That means your pack should weigh a maximum of 25 pounds.
2. Check the efficiency of your food. Food is heavy. Ideally, you should try to pack items that are high in caloric value and low in grams (weight). Fortunately, that’s weight you shed as time goes on, but the more efficient you pack from the start, the better. Ounces quickly become pounds on the trail. Backpacker dinners (like Backpacker’s Pantry) are pretty light weight and offer a smorgasbord of just-add-boiling-water dinner options … which brings us to:
3. Check sodium levels on your food. Just-add-boiling-water food is crazy high in sodium, but your options are limited since it’s one of the only ways to eat a hot, tasty meal. If I’m over-indulging in sodium-rich choices, my fingers tend to swell up like sausages, which can’t be good. That said, seek out low-sodium options, like the Pesto Salmon Pasta, one of our groups favorite. ( I bet the bears love the smell, too!)
4. Leave beauty products behind unless they benefit the health of your skin/body. Resist the urge to pack makeup. Instead, focus your routine on upkeep and protection from the elements: Chapstick, lotion, bug spray, sunscreen, face/body towelettes, all-in-one soap (yes, I know, that stuff is miserable on hair), and maybe even a small container of powder to touch-up greasy hair. ‘Cause no girl — especially one who gets around — wants greasy hair. Yuck.
5. Don’t pack a new outfit for everyday. Pack versatile items that can be worn more than once. Plus, make sure to pack more fresh base layers (the clothes you wear closest to your body, that is) than top layers. Fresh base layers, you’ll look forward to; daily fresh top layers are unnecessary and only add extra weight. Do pack clean undies daily — the super-sexy cotton ones, of course. Unless you’re really short on carabiners, thongs really have no place in the back country.
6. Use stuff sacks or compression sacks, especially for your clothes. This will keep your bag so much more organized — and you so much more sane. There’s nothing that stirs up quite the harkening for home than digging through days’ worth of balled-up, stank-ass clothes.
7. Random things I won’t leave home without: Flip-flops, duct tape, Band Aid Advanced Healing Blister, Imodium AD. Some kind of sandal or lightweight shoe is wonderful for just hanging out; after slogging through miles in your heavy hiking shoes, they’re the last thing you want to wear during downtime at camp. If you bring duct tape, you’ll probably be glad you did — trust me on this. But you don’t have to bring a big honking roll. Just wrap some around your trekking pole or wherever it’s unobtrusive and won’t get wound all over you, making you look like a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey after a few miles. You’ll almost forget you have it until you need it.
8. Lemon-lime electrolyte tabs are a pleasant addition to your Camelbak, especially if the water you’re filtering has a distinctive taste. They also help supply some of the vital nutrients you lose through sweat. And, during downtime, if you’re camping near snow and have a flask of tequila (like we did during our recent trip to The Enchantments), voila — you’ve got make-shift margaritas and a fiesta in the back country!
9. Use trekking poles. I promise, they’re not just for old people (or maybe I’m old?). On average, they eliminate 25% of the stress on your knees and joints, provide a rhythm to your pace, and assist your balance in sketchy situations. My knees used to pitch a fit the whole way down mountains. But on the recommendation of friends, I used poles for my last trip to The Enchantments and had zero issues. Bottom line: I’m a pole believer. Best $89 dollars I could have spent.
10. Research the peak season of your destination. The dates you’ve chosen for your trip may not be a bad time to go, but it may not be the best time either. See when the area is the most beautiful: when flowers bloom, trees turn colors, the mosquitoes buzz off, and when trails are in their optimal condition. If you’ve got the flexibility, why not go when things are at their best?
*This is not a packing checklist, but rather items and tips that have made my experiences more pleasant.
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